Overcoming obstacles on the course and in life. Incredible guest blog written by a legend and hero, Gwenn Case
An inspiring and important reminder: if you're not sure why you're doing this. We highly recommend you sit down and try this exercise. Because if you're anything like us, your why is just as important as your nutrition and training. Understanding your why and having that in the forefront of your mind while pushing yourself will propel you to your goals.
Best OCR Training Tip I Ever Received
For several years, I believed that the best way to improve your performance was to train harder. As a college baseball player, the best way to become a better hitter was more swings and extra time in the batting cage. In the gym, I thought the best way to improve strength was to continuously lift more weight more often. And when I began my endurance racing career, I thought the best way to improve running was to continuously add more and faster miles.
This was my personal approach, until one day I came across a thread in one of the endurance Facebook groups about “what was the one thing you wished you learned earlier in your training“. The most surprising answer to me was how important rest and recovery is to your training. It might seem obvious but getting the right rest and recovery can actually propel your performance to the next level.
Proof Rest is Important
After reading the Facebook thread, my immediate reaction was “I don’t need to prioritize rest that much. I’m an athlete, I can just push through everything.” But I slowly moved away from that thought and began to incorporate more rest and recovery into my training. So, what changed for me:
I learned that rest is key to muscle growth and endurance improvement. During training, we tare muscle fibers. Down time allows these muscles to recover allowing you to come back stronger than before.
Rest allows the body to adapt to the stress of new workouts and training programs.
Reducing long term fatigue will prevent bad habits. My deadlift form is terrible. I can coach a proper lift, but when it comes time for me to do reps it very quickly becomes “do what I say, not what I do.” I attribute this to both poor coaching at the beginning and continuing to lift while fatigued. This caused me to use the wrong muscle groups while lifting and overcompensate for the tired muscles.
It helps avoid overtraining, which can lead to injuries and other issues that will shut you down for the long term. If you have persistent muscle soreness, elevated resting heart rate, seem to be sick all the time, have lost motivation to work out, are irritable when not hungry, or seem to be constantly injured you could be overtraining.
Rest and recovery helped me avoid getting burnt out and helped the mental side of my training as well.
You have Been Convinced to Recover more, now what?
There are two types of recovery to consider when building a training program or looking at your own training cycles. The first is your long-term recovery. This looks at how you include consistent recovery. This insures that you are able to have a sustainable lifestyle and good life long habits.
The second form of recovery is short-term. How you recover day-to-day and week-to-week. This recovery will look at how you are able to bounce back after a hard workout or prepare for an upcoming race or event.
In it for the long haul
For most of us, racing and training is a lifestyle. I personally don’t plan on ever not living an active life. I may not always be racing OCR or endurance events, but I will be doing something. Fitness is a major part of my life, so I must be ready for the long haul.
When designing a training program, an athlete’s long-term goals are ones that I will always consider first. You should do this as well when designing your training programs. What are your major goals and target races? For me it is OCRWC in October, North American Championship in August, and a few other races throughout the year. For others it is a marathon, 5k, or to achieve personal records in some other area of your fitness.
Being a NASM certified trainer, I look and design programs using the idea of periodization. Periodization is defined by NASM as “a division of a training program into smaller, progressive stages.” You should plan your year by looking at which stage of fitness you need to be in and how taxing any given month should be on your body. Each month will build upon one another furthering your strength and endurance. But not all these months need to be more strenuous than the last. A cycle of 4-6 weeks of heavy lifting or taxing endurance training should be followed by a break focusing on muscular endurance or stability. This cycle should be repeated throughout the year, making sure you are building your training to peak at the most important times.
After looking at your training cycle for the year, you should review your week-to-week cycle. Make sure you are including a deload week ever 4-6 weeks. A deload week reduces your reps, amount of weight, distances run, or perceived effort by at least half. This break lets the muscles, and your mind, recover. Making sure you include these easier weeks and months will ensure that you will have long term success, become stronger and faster, and reduce the risk of injury.
In the Short-Term: How to CRUSH Your Rest Day and more
No one likes a rest day. Well maybe some of you do, but you’re probably also that person that likes pineapple on pizza. Yuck! But if you are like me, rest days are often the hardest of the week. Mine fall on a Friday, which sometimes is hard to do because all I want to do is release the stress of a long week with longer run or in the weight room. But I know this day is needed to get after it on Saturday and Sunday, when I have more time to do longer workouts and runs. I strongly recommend every athlete include at least one rest day a week every week. There is no shortcut to good recovery.
Now just because you are resting, that does not mean you cannot go out and get a little fitness in. Active recovery is always a possibility. Stretching your body, going for a hike or low resistance bike ride, taking a yoga class, or having fun playing a pick-up game of basketball are all things that you can do on a rest day. The important thing is to not work the same muscles or strain the body too much. This is the day where an 8-hour Netflix binge is considered perfect endurance training.
While focusing on my recovery, I have found that what you do day-to-day is just as important as including a weekly rest day, monthly deload week, or the proper periodization month-to-month. Here are the things that I have found are most important to my daily recovery:
- Sleep like a baby: This is by far the most important thing you can do. Sleep, and deep sleep, allows the body time to recover. There are hormones released during sleep that trigger muscle growth and reduce fatigue. Sleep has also been found to reduce the chances of injury. Every person needs a different amount of sleep, but for most athletes at least 7-9 hours.
Eat clean, train dirty: Sure, that is a trendy hashtag, but it is completely true. Proper nutrition is important during recovery. Jessie has written some awesome blogs focusing on this point. You can find them here: https://www.fullpursuithealth.com/blog/
Go take a shower: Not only will you smell better after a workout but showering at different temperatures can improve recovery. Hot showers will improve circulation and can be more enjoyable, but a cold shower will drive your blood inward to organs and muscles. This is believed to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness by helping to reduce lactate in the blood and inflammation. A shower does not have to be all cold. Contrast showers, where you switch between a hot shower and ice-cold water is enough to show a positive effect.
Clear your mind, the rest will follow: Recovery is not only for your body, but also for your mind. Everyday stresses, illness, and burnout from training all affect how you recover and react to your changing programming. Find ways to clear your mind and focus on reducing overall stress. Meditation has helped for me (when I have a consistent practice). Apps like Headspace (which is what I use) make it super easy to do. If meditating is not for you, read a book, go hangout in nature, or some other decompressing non-fitness hobby can all help with your recovery.
Listen to your body: Sometimes your body needs an extra day. Listen to these cues and learn when you need to rest for an extra day, or even take a week or more off from the type of training you do most often. Learn the difference between just feeling lazy or “not into it” and needing more time to recover. You will not lose all your progress by taking more than one day off. In fact, it could lead to even better growth.
How to Know Your Recovery Is on Point
Now you are sleeping like a baby, you are eating all clean foods, you have the proper periodization and deload. How do you know you are recovered?
Improved performance: This one is clear. You are running faster or lifting more. You feel better during your workouts than you ever have, and you can see the results.
Your mind is rested: You feel fresh mentally. There is a clarity to what you want to accomplish, and you are focused, not only in the gym but also elsewhere. Most importantly, you are enjoying what you are doing.
Listen to your heart: Here comes some science. Your heart can tell you a lot about your recovery. A consistent resting heart rate, or a resting heart rate that shows a slow trend to getting lower, are signs your body is adapting to your training and rested. If you have a heart rate that remains higher than normal for a period of time, you could be over training or not recovering well.
Super Science-y: I am a fitness nerd and love statistics. I have started to track my HRV (heart rate variability) through a fitness band and app I use. HRV is a measure of the time interval between heart beats. A healthy heart has irregularities and does not pump on a regular interval. According to some sources the more variability, the better you are recovering. Tracking your HRV can help figure out days when you can push yourself harder or might need to back off from your training that day. For more info on HRV you can go here: https://blog.ouraring.com/blog/heart-rate-variability-basic
Now that you know the basics of recovery, get some sleep.
Remember when we said nutrition is 90% of your training? Well, replenishing fluids is 60% of the 90%. Full Pursuit Health delves into the topic of HYDRATION: what we need, why we need it, and how it all works so YOU can get what you need to push through any WOD or brutal race that gets thrown your way.
So you finished the race...great job! Now what? A whole pizza? Maybe some chicken wings? And what about that post race beer??? We give you the "skinny" on how we can reboost and refuel our bodies after exercise to help with muscle soreness and repair, so you can be in tip top shape and ready to go next time!
As coaches and athletes we are passionate about the sport of Obstacle Course Racing and whole-food healthy living! That’s one of the reasons why we’ve created this Full Pursuit Health™ site.
Over the years we’ve raced competitively and posted what we’re eating in our kitchen along with training and racing tips. Now we want to provide you with even more resources to get the best out of your racing and ultimately enjoy the sport more!
So keep an eye out here for blogs focusing on everything from nutrition, workout programs, obstacle technique and other ways to bring you racing to the next level.